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"If magic is what distinguishes fantasy from science fiction...

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message 1: by Mark (last edited Nov 10, 2019 01:24PM) (new)

Mark (markmtz) | 1398 comments ...and if your technology is indistinguishable from magic, then it stands to reason that your science fiction is indistinguishable from fantasy, isn’t it?"

An interesting essay by Alexandra Erin published in Uncanny Magazine

https://uncannymagazine.com/article/t...

This is a regular topic of discussion here at S&L, a book club favorably positioned to see all sides of the author's arguments, but will you come to the same conclusion...

(view spoiler)


message 2: by Iain (last edited Nov 10, 2019 01:24PM) (new)

Iain Bertram (iain_bertram) | 913 comments Must be in the air

Science Fiction vs. Fantasy: The Choice Is Clear by James Davis Nicoll came out earlier in the week as well.

https://www.tor.com/2019/11/06/scienc...

Sums up the discussion neatly


message 3: by Mark (new)

Mark (markmtz) | 1398 comments Maybe it's happening because everyone is thinking about things like the Goodreads Choice Awards. I've been reading science fiction and fantasy all year but I only see one book I recognize in the SF and F Goodreads categories. Maybe they messed up. ;-)


message 4: by Mark (last edited Nov 10, 2019 01:59PM) (new)

Mark (markmtz) | 1398 comments I didn't realize I was stumbling into the latest SF&F rumble. Norman Spinrad reviewed some books in the current issue of Asimov's Science Fiction which started a firestorm about science fiction, fantasy, and other topics. Iain is right, 'tis the season...

https://www.asimovs.com/current-issue...

This link is only good while the November/December 2019 issue is the current issue.


message 5: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1157 comments Thanks for posting this Mark. And thanks Lain for posting the Tor article, I read it a few days ago, and meant to bring it up hear, but forgot.

I must say the Uncanny article by Alexandra Erin seemed a bit combative to me, almost as if it was in response to something directly. While I don't agree with the conclusion, or some of the examples, and points being made, I do think the subject is fun to discus. And I think that is why we have done it many times here.

I do think some amount of categorizing does help us, as it works as a bit of a short hand. I do also think that there is something to the idea of it being a bit in the eye of the beholder ( I know trike doesn't), and I also know there are a lot of books that fall into a bit more of a grey area. But one thing I hope all of us agree on is this classification should not be used as something to dismiss good stories, no matter how they are told.


message 6: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5753 comments WHO SUMMONS ME?!?!


message 7: by Jannik (new)

Jannik (jann1k) | 40 comments Trike wrote: "WHO SUMMONS ME?!?!"

Somehow I had an inkling to see your name in this thread :P


message 8: by Rick (last edited Nov 11, 2019 01:34PM) (new)

Rick | 2363 comments ...and if your technology is indistinguishable from magic, then it stands to reason that your science fiction is indistinguishable from fantasy, isn’t it?"

Let's play spot the logical fallacy!

Wow. Read the Spinrad column on Asimov's and that will be the last thing I read there. Not because of the column, but because of the note above it from the editor which starts "We took the Norman Spinrad column down from our website because we heard many concerns from readers..."

Sorry, but any magazine that censors ideas like this, especially one that works in a genre that's so incredibly based on asking "What if" deserves to be shunned.


message 9: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2361 comments Rick wrote: "Sorry, but any magazine that censors ideas like this, especially one that works in a genre that's so incredibly based on asking "What if" deserves to be shunned."

I hate to tell you this, but every magazine in existence has at least one employee whose job is to censor ideas. They're called "editors".


message 10: by Rick (last edited Nov 12, 2019 05:57PM) (new)

Rick | 2363 comments Sean wrote: "I hate to tell you this, but every magazine in existence has at least one employee whose job is to censor ideas. They're called "editors".
..."

Utterly ignoring the point and the reality of the situation but a really CUTE attempt at wit. Unsuccessful, but hey, nice try.

I have to assume it was an attempt at wit rather than you not getting why it's problematic to remove a published column because some people didn't like the viewpoint and how that differs from what most editors do.


message 11: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2361 comments What's the difference between an editor rejecting a column because they recognize that it contains offensive content, and an editor pulling a column after publication because readers pointed out it contains offensive content that the editor missed?

To take another recent example, there was a Japanese fantasy novel called New Life+ about a guy who dies at the age of 100 and gets reincarnated in a fantasy world. Turns out the text contained coded references to the Rape of Nanking, including hints that the main character had participated in one of the more notorious attrocities there. Are you saying it's wrong for the publisher to pull the book from circulation after being made aware of the issue?


message 12: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3085 comments Soooo, just to throw some gasoline on the Magic / Science discussion....

From Blindsight (Firefall) by Peter Watts. Setting is a ship in the Oort cloud. Prior to this passage is a discussion of the Ramscoop that collects hydrogen and an antimatter collector.

Peter Watts wrote: "I knew the incantations, of course - antimatter cracking and deconstruction, the teleportation of quantum serial numbers - but it was still magic to me, how we'd come so far so fast. It would have been magic to anyone."

I mean, as an example of the "spare me the mumbo jumbo" trope to cut short a data dump, that's a doozy.


message 13: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1157 comments I think Rick has a good point, that weather you agree with an opinion or disagree, it is usually best to leave it out in the open where it can be read, and not taken down. I think the best scenario, in hindsight, would have been for the editor to have realized that the article was a bit controversial (it obviously was), and added a note like the one that accompanies it now before it was published the first time.

Regarding the novel you reference Sean, I think context is key here. As has been said many times here before, Just because an author has a character (even the lead protagonist) do bad things, does not mean that the author is saying they are OK. After reading the Wikipedia article about that particular novel, it sounds like the author did have a bit of a history of making racist comments, and while he did apologize for them, the writing was on the wall when he did, and the publisher still pulled the plug soon after. That is there right to do. After all the hub bub, I'm not sure if this was an ethical decision, as much as a business one. Would the revised versions, the author suggested, have sold enough to warrant a new print run? That along with the bad press, probably made an easy decision to just drop the book.

An interesting question would be in the digital world if the publisher decided to try and pull all those digital copies of the book off the purchasers book readers (I don't believe they did, this is hypothetical) would this be the equivalent of publisher supported book burning? And would that have been OK?


message 14: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5753 comments John (Nevets) wrote: "I think Rick has a good point, that weather you agree with an opinion or disagree, it is usually best to leave it out in the open where it can be read, and not taken down. I think the best scenario..."

Except that it was reinstated, on the actual website, so I’m not sure what the umbrage is about.

Wishy-washy, maybe, but you can still read it. I’ve changed my mind about posts, too. Big whoop.


message 15: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 567 comments The article in Asimov's was tl;dr for me, but I enjoyed the Uncanny and Tor articles. I find the subject of what delineates fantasy and SF an interesting one, but one which all-too-easily descends into rancour. I think it's because there's a certain type of SF fan who is fiercely protective of their genre because it's 'serious hard sciency stuff' and really hates any attempt to lump it in with that grody elves-and-dwarves-and-magic-swords stuff.

fwiw I don't think there's really any way to make a hard-and-fast distinction between fantasy and SF - unless you exclude from SF everything that isn't diamond-hard, which then excludes most of the writers who are usually thought of as 'science fiction'. But it's useful to have a rough distinction for purposes of working out what books you might enjoy.


message 16: by Rick (last edited Nov 13, 2019 09:22AM) (new)

Rick | 2363 comments Trike wrote: "Except that it was reinstated, on the actual website, so I’m not sure what the umbrage is about.
.."


For me, it's what it says about their editorial stance.... that if enough people dislike something they will remove it. Not provide a counterpoint, not host a discussion about it, they'll just cave to a mob if the mob is big or loud enough. That's intellectual cowardice and it's especially unseemly for a publication in a field that is about exploring new ideas and asking questions.

If the column had been a racist/homephobic/sexist rant? Then I could see it though that kind of. thing should obviously be caught before the Publish button is ever pressed. But it's not and Spinrad made some good points, mostly that the actual amount of science fiction in SFF has really been overtaken by out and out fantasy. While he seems to regret this a bit, I didn't take from the piece that he felt fantasy was a bad genre or inferior to SF but that it's NOT science fiction, but a different, sister genre. In this, I agree with him mostly. There's less straight up SF around as a percentage of works (or so it feels), there's especially a dearth of positive SF and the awards tend to the fantasy side.

As for the boundary discussions... eh. We've had those and face it, most SF was never Hard SF that eschewed anything not possible with current science. Much of it involved at least one thing that current physics tells us isn't possible. Even classics like Dune do this. That doesn't mean there's no difference between fantasy and science fiction, though and anyone who argues that is very hard to take seriously.


message 17: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3085 comments It's easy. If it has a spaceship it's SF. If it has a dragon it's fantasy. *looks at Pern series* Damnit.


message 18: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5753 comments Rick wrote: "For me, it's what it says about their editorial stance.... that if enough people dislike something they will remove it. Not provide a counterpoint, not host a discussion about it, they'll just cave to a mob if the mob is big or loud enough. That's intellectual cowardice and it's especially unseemly for a publication in a field that is about exploring new ideas and asking questions. "

By that standard, reinstating the essay is an act of heroism.

To put it in streetfight terms, they stood up for what they believed, but were cowed by an opponent, but then reached down deep and found their principles equal to the opposition, and decided to face whatever might come.

Sounds like a heroic redemption arc to me. You should be praising them, in that case.


message 19: by Mark Lawrence (new)

Mark Lawrence (marklawrence) | 21 comments I've always maintained that anything other than hypothetical magic is science. If it exists and can be demonstrated then it is part of the world and the way it works. And like gravity etc it is a legitimate subject for scientific consideration … i.e. science.

There are many things in our world that are hard to explain with science (intelligence, love etc) but we don't throw up our hands and say that because we can't find an equation for them they must be magic.


message 20: by Trike (last edited Nov 13, 2019 10:10AM) (new)

Trike | 5753 comments Mark wrote: "...and if your technology is indistinguishable from magic, then it stands to reason that your science fiction is indistinguishable from fantasy, isn’t it?"

An interesting essay by Alexandra Erin published in Uncanny Magazine"


I just read this and boy-howdy is that some confused writing. Not confusING but confused. She continually ties herself into linguistic (and sometimes ontological) knots, proving the opposite of what she intends.

I mean, that whole part about sandwiches... WTF? Yes, we all know what a sandwich is, but then she goes on to say that an open-faced sandwich is a sandwich but a pizza isn’t. (And the part about a Pop Tart being a ravioli?) The mind boggles.

This is the sort of thing I run into all the time, where we allow the stupidest people to redefine things for us. I’m not a prescriptivist when it comes to language, otherwise it ossifies and, more to the point, becomes less fun. But sweet baby Jesus we need SOME rules.

A guy I know has for over 40 years constantly misused the word “taunt” when he means “taut.” No amount of correction has changed this behavior. Enough people do this that some dictionaries now have added the definition of “taut” to “taunt”. Continuing on this path will render words meaningless.

So when you call Science Fiction “Fantasy”, you are degrading the signal. Just like when people call a tartine an open-faced sandwich, they are missing the essential point of the definition of a sandwich, or using taunt when they mean taut, when you say “it’s all Fantasy” then you’ve just rendered the words useless.

Also, just because Asimov or Bradbury or Clarke wrote it doesn’t mean it’s Science Fiction. They wrote in other genres. Deliberately. Whoever said that was a stupid person.

...and who on god’s green earth would ever be tricked into calling a Pop Tart a ravioli? Stupid people, that’s who.


message 21: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3085 comments Oooh, sugar ravioli. If you take the top off, is it a pop-tartine?


message 22: by Trike (last edited Nov 13, 2019 10:26AM) (new)

Trike | 5753 comments John (Taloni) wrote: "Oooh, sugar ravioli. If you take the top off, is it a pop-tartine?"

I would say no, because the essence is placed or ladled onto the underlying bread structure. As opposed to a tarte, which contains the stuff.

Tartine: https://images.app.goo.gl/H3Fqkcd1njh...

Tarte: https://images.app.goo.gl/9yVgniwXwJB...


Edit: I have a lot of professional bakers and cooks in my family, which is why I know this stuff. For instance, my cousin Amanda bakes specialty cakes and we’ve had similar discussions. Take a look: https://instagram.com/manda_bakes_it?...


message 23: by Sky (new)

Sky Corbelli | 343 comments Trike wrote: "I mean, that whole part about sandwiches... WTF? Yes, we all know what a sandwich is, but then she goes on to say that an open-faced sandwich is a sandwich but a pizza isn’t. (And the part about a Pop Tart being a ravioli?) The mind boggles."

It sounds like someone just recently stumbled upon the question, "Is a hot dog a sandwich?"

More interesting I think is this: if you remove three sides of the Pop Tart, does it become a taco? If not, does Taco Bell actually serve tacos?

I am, of course, referring to the metaphorical Pop Tart and taco constructs as they pertain to Science Fiction and the Fantasy genre as whole and Taco Bell as genre-specific imprints of the publishing industry.

Or maybe I'm just hungry!


message 24: by Rick (last edited Nov 13, 2019 05:05PM) (new)

Rick | 2363 comments Trike wrote: "For instance, my cousin Amanda bakes specialty cakes and we’ve had similar discussions...."

WHAT???? I can't even guess how she did this... https://www.instagram.com/p/B0_hXZnjmSq/


Back on topic... I'd agree with Mark about definitions and Trike about the meaning of words.

On the Spinrad column... I'd love some of you (fine, all of you if you want) to read it and opine on it because I don't get the furor. Has Fantasy become a larger and larger part of SFF over the last couple of decades? Yes, I think so. Is it grabbing awards more and more? Dunno but it's certainly made inroads into the nominees. Is this a bad thing? I could argue both ways. If the purpose of the SFWA and the Nebula awards is to promote *science fiction* then fantasy shouldn't be on the lists. If it's to promote works of speculative fiction and we put under that umbrella both SF and Fantasy, sure include fantasy works. But let's not pretend there's no difference in our rush to promote that inclusion.


message 25: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5753 comments Rick wrote: "Trike wrote: "For instance, my cousin Amanda bakes specialty cakes and we’ve had similar discussions...."

WHAT???? I can't even guess how she did this... https://www.instagram.com/p/B0_hXZnjmSq/

..."


Right? She’s got skills. They’re delicious, too.


Rick wrote: "On the Spinrad column... I'd love some of you (fine, all of you if you want) to read it and opine on it because I don't get the furor. Has Fantasy become a larger and larger part of SFF over the last couple of decades? Yes, I think so. Is it grabbing awards more and more? Dunno but it's certainly made inroads into the nominees."

I’m going to read the other columns but I had to go to work.

I think that Fantasy has long been a part of the Nebula awards, except for maybe the first few years, so that’s like shutting the barn door after the horse has escaped. Didn’t Game of Thrones and Harry Potter win?

It’s no secret that my definitions are stricter than pretty much anyone else’s, but those definitions are also purely academic. In the real world it gets messy. Yes, I label Star Trek as Fantasy, but I don’t care if people call it Science Fiction because it hits 9 out of 10 tropes. That’s fine. But by the same token, they should also extend the same courtesy to Star Wars... which they don’t. (Obligatory link to the Wars v. Trek chart I made: https://www.goodreads.com/photo/user/...)

At some point we either have to draw a dividing line or refuse to do so. Clearly the Hugo, Nebula, Saturn, etc., awards have opted for “not”. Their award, their prerogative. Although I don’t see the same sort of wishy-washy abdication in other awards like Romance and Mystery. Probably it’s just because SFF shared a bookstore shelf for so many decades.


message 26: by Rick (last edited Nov 15, 2019 07:54PM) (new)

Rick | 2363 comments Well the reason I'd like others' opinions on the column is that it just doesn't seem that controversial to me. His main thesis, as I read it, was that SF is increasingly pushed to the side for fantasy which he feels is too bad and not really good for the genre.

I'd need to hit up wikipedia or something and tally SF vs fantasy counts for the awards but it does seem that fantasy works have been more and more prevalent both there and in the general talk about the overall SFF world.

To the degree that Spinrad is saying he'd like to see more actual SF published, talked about and competing for awards, I agree. It's not a dislike of fantasy that motivates me to say that but rather that good SF tickles different bones. I especially want to see more positive SF - the doom and gloom, post apocalyptic stuff is getting repetitive and mostly tiresome. That's one reason I liked Becky Chambers' books.

At some point we either have to draw a dividing line or refuse to do so. ... Although I don’t see the same sort of wishy-washy abdication in other awards like Romance and Mystery.

I think this is the key point to me. If there's not some dividing line between genres then the entire point of genres is moot. Oh and for the record, both Trek and Wars are SF :)


message 27: by Robin (new)

Robin Hobb | 23 comments John (Taloni) wrote: "It's easy. If it has a spaceship it's SF. If it has a dragon it's fantasy. *looks at Pern series* Damnit."

Oh, I like you!

Robin


message 28: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5753 comments Robin wrote: "John (Taloni) wrote: "It's easy. If it has a spaceship it's SF. If it has a dragon it's fantasy. *looks at Pern series* Damnit."

Oh, I like you!

Robin"


Now you’ve done it. We won’t be able to live with him.


message 29: by Robin (new)

Robin Hobb | 23 comments A few random observations.
I like Spinrad. He says things that make people talk about ideas. I never believe that I have to agree with a columnist. If everyone agrees, why even write that column? I didn't see anything in Spinrad's column that outraged me. He has opinions, and so do I.
I love SF and I love fantasy. I've written both with varying degrees of success.
The wonder of books is that we don't have to choose. I loved Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trio. SF Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars. I love Craig Johnson's Longmire stories (Westerns, I guess.) And I love Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock. And Debbie MacComber writes fun romances. I could go on and on. Read what you love. Put it any way you like on your shelves. Talk about it, argue about it, give books as gifts. That's what we do, right?
Robin


message 30: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5753 comments Robin wrote: "I love SF and I love fantasy. I've written both with varying degrees of success.
The wonder of books is that we don't have to choose."


That was one of the things that bothered about the sandwich essay. “If Asimov and Clarke wrote, then it’s sci-fi!” Except they wrote both. And Asimov wrote everything. (Literally. He’s the only author to have an entry under every Dewey Decimal code.) Someone who argues against putting genres in boxes but puts authors in them is confused, to put it mildly.


message 31: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2363 comments Not surprisingly Robin expresses what I was trying to say far better than I did. I wonder why... :)


message 32: by Brad (new)

Brad Haney | 197 comments I guess despite these seemingly not so different difference we are able to, for the most part, distinguish between the genres pretty well. That said I wish the genres would get mixed up a little more. Like give me a space opera that takes place in the future of an epic fantasy world or something similar. It looks like Brandon Sanderson is heading in that direction with Mistborn but we’re still a ways off.


message 33: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5753 comments Brad wrote: "Like give me a space opera that takes place in the future of an epic fantasy world or something similar."

You should try the Mageworlds.

Or maybe Marvel comics.

I mean, just as a for-instance, Devil Dinosaur is the result of genetic manipulation by an alien in a hidden jungle called the Savage Land in the middle of Antarctica, and DD has a psychic connection to a kid called Moon Girl and they battle evil wizards and robots and recently went into space to talk to a sentient moon.

https://blacknerdproblems.com/moon-gi...


message 34: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2363 comments Trike wrote: "...Devil Dinosaur is the result of genetic manipulation by an alien in a hidden jungle called the Savage Land in the middle of Antarctica, and DD has a psychic connection to a kid called Moon Girl and they battle evil wizards and robots and recently went into space to talk to a sentient moon...."

Obvious hard SF.


message 35: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5753 comments He has a hat.


message 36: by Brad (new)

Brad Haney | 197 comments Trike wrote: "Brad wrote: "Like give me a space opera that takes place in the future of an epic fantasy world or something similar."

You should try the Mageworlds.

Or maybe Marvel comics.

I mean, just as a fo..."

I’ll have to check those out. I do think it is more common to see the genre mashups in comics, less so in novels.


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